Posted in Netgalley

Summer Fever by Kate Riordan

This is a real sizzler of a novel! Hot in every sense of the world, set in picturesque Italy with a sense of growing menace all the way through. I read this one in the garden, with a Pimms in hand and with every chapter became more convinced of the old saying; the grass is never greener on the other side. Laura and Nick have been through a lot. Back in London they were struggling with infertility and Laura hadn’t felt like herself for a long time, the fertility drugs pumping her full of hormones and the grief of miscarriage left her feeling broken. When she discovers a betrayal, after Nick accidentally leaves his phone at home, she’s angry and resentful too. In his eagerness to make it up to her, Nick suggests they do what Laura has always wanted, move to Italy and create a holiday hideaway for couples. They discovered Luna Rossa on a visit to Italy several months ago, after which Laura suffered a third miscarriage. It is in the Marche region, a largely unknown area of Italy next to Tuscany, but less expensive. Luna Rossa is wonderfully isolated and just dilapidated enough to still be charming. It includes a pool, a small derelict cottage and beautiful grounds that fall away steeply gifting the house with incredible views across the countryside. Only a few months later they are preparing to welcome their first couple for a three week stay. It seems idyllic, but they’re taking a risk in welcoming complete strangers into their home. Laura has stalked her guest Madison on social media and she seems very outgoing and glamorous. Laura and Nick could be underestimating how disruptive it can be to have strangers living in your home, especially these strangers…

I felt the author set out Nick and Laura’s back story and state of mind very well. Nick is contrite and desperate to make it up to Laura for his indiscretion, but he’s sacrificed a lot to follow her dream and might have been desperate to make it happen at all costs. Laura is still resentful of Nick’s mistake and the trauma of infertility has left her a little lost, unsure of who she is anymore. With hormones still not back to normal and the sadness of losing a child she’s very fragile and could easily be manipulated. I got a sense that she wanted to recapture herself, the person she was before their fertility journey began. It’s as if she wants to take off her experiences like taking off a costume and simple be who she was before. It takes time to process trauma and assimilate the experience into your sense of self, something she’s barely started. There’s a reckless feel to her actions, almost a need to self destruct. I thought the author’s description of the miscarriage experience was brilliant, I’ve been there and recognised Laura’s confusion at some of the euphemism’s used by medical staff to avoid emotive language; using ‘products of conception’ rather than baby and ‘come away’ rather than loss. It rang so true and I had empathy for her. As we start seeing flashbacks of her life at university and her relationship with the man she loved, I found her curiously passive. This annoyed me, although I did realise later on that it might be a coping mechanism. She seems to slip away in her mind and so any trauma or difficult experience only happens to her bodily rather than emotionally, hopefully leaving her able to cope. Sadly it just leaves her divorced from her emotional self, like an observer rather than someone truly living that moment and feeling it. Shutting emotions out never works and her destructive behaviour is the bodily experience of those repressed emotions.

Once their guests arrive, Madison and husband Bastian, the tone is set for their stay. Gregarious and sociable Madison seems to suck Laura and Nick into her orbit and they’re soon acting like friends visiting rather than paying guests. This is inexperience on the couple’s part and ordinarily they might learn from it, but there’s an air of menace in the way Madison ‘plays’ with Laura. She dresses Laura up, is overtly sexual and likes to play mind games with her husband. Is it for herself, or Bastian’s pleasure that she does this? At a neighbour’s pool one afternoon Madison comes on to Laura with Bastian watching. He’s clearly enjoying himself, but is it just the titillation or is he enjoying Laura’s discomfort and confusion too? In these moments of challenge Laura is again curiously passive, going along with the moment rather than causing a fuss. There’s also a feeling of unease around the builders who turn up to see Nick, their disdain of Laura very evident in the way they dismiss her objections as if she knows nothing about her own house. Is this simply a chauvinistic attitude or is something more sinister going on? The tension is often at fever pitch, accentuated by the physical temperature and constant need to cool off. The author then adds sections of unbearable tension, such as the slightly ‘Don’t Look Now’ masquerade feel of the town’s medieval festival. The heat is unbearable and Laura is never sure who is behind the costume and has the uneasy feeling that they could have stepped back in time; the permanence of the ancient buildings seeming to mock her for feeling untethered and temporary. The author also drip feeds a little bit of stress into everyday life, such as Madison’s wardrobe making Laura feel she has to make an effort too. Nick notices she’s now wearing make- up every day and styling her hair whereas she wouldn’t normally bother. These changes show that Laura isn’t comfortable in her own skin, this pair have some sort of hold or influence but what is it? We are taken back in time to her university days for the answers and then the shock revelations surrounding the guests start to unfold. With secrets being kept about Luna Rossa too, the conclusion is explosive to say the least. This will make you wish you were in Italy, but not with these people.

Meet The Author

Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist. She is an avid reader of Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie, both of whom have influenced her writing. She lives in the Cotswolds, where she writes full-time. The Heatwave is her fourth novel

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Favour by Laura Vaughan.

Fortune favours the fraud…

When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy.

In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set.

But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined…

I’m drawn to any book based in the beautiful cities of Italy, but I was also drawn by the premise of Ada’s inability to accept a change in circumstances after the death of her father means selling off the family’s ramshackle mansion in Wales. I felt that I might understand someone struggling to fit in between social circles having come from a working class family then through my 11+ ending up at a very middle class grammar school. I found it very hard to fit in, but once I did, it was just as difficult to fit back where I’d come from, forever caught between two different tribes. However, Ada was in another league altogether, totally unable to accept the life her mother had created for them. A period terrace in London and the local secondary school are not enough for her, nor is a stepfather with an ordinary, dull name like Brian. Her plan to study at Cambridge, at the same college as her father, falls through when she fluffs her second interview. It looks like she might have to accept her more humble lifestyle, but the along comes her godmother’s offer of a modern grand tour with Dilettanti Discoveries.

Now she has to find a way to fit in with the Lorcans and Annabelle’s of this world and she has a plan for that. Ada knows all the right lingo to seem like one of the group – using the phrase ‘we had to sell up’ is a distinctive one for people of a certain class. It has the scent of ‘distressed gentry’, people who have had to sell off the family pile due to death duties or renovation costs on their large country houses. She even talks about Garreg Las as the family’s smaller home, hinting of a more distinguished estate belonging to her father’s family in Ireland. One by one, as they stalk art galleries and churches, Ada tries to ingratiate herself with the group. Will they accept her story or sniff out the truth of who she is and where she belongs? These are deliciously awful people and there isn’t a single one I’d want to spend time with. They had an air of entitlement and superiority, but it was hard not to enjoy their witty, self-assured conversation. There’s a certain polish and charm that makes them alluring, but it’s all surface. Oliver seems suspicious of Ada, and Mallory has also been picked out as an outsider, being American and Jewish. However, Mallory’s attempts at friendship are shunned by Ada, who desperately wants to belong to the most fashionable set. To ingratiate herself with Lorcan, Ada reveals a secret; she has seen Lorcan’s half-sister Annabelle in a romantic clinch with one of their tutors. She agrees to keep the secret between them, to place herself at the centre of the group. Then, when a suspicious death occurs, Ada is not just at the centre of the group, she’s at the centre of a potential crime. She makes a decision to grant one of the group a favour, something you might barely notice, but it furthers Ada’s quest to belong. If one of the group owe her a favour, surely she becomes accepted forever? I didn’t even think about what it could mean going forward, but that’s how clever the book is. You are captive, watching each consequence of Ada’s decision opening up in front of you, one after another, like a set of Russian Dolls.

Meanwhile, in the background, Vaughan creates a beautiful backdrop of art, architecture and soft Italian light. I could imagine what a beautiful film this would make as these intriguing characters stroll through formal Italian gardens, along the Arno or in the twisty, labyrinthine lanes of Venice. All the reference points Vaughan touches upon – such as Ada glimpsing the same fountain where Lucy Honeychurch witnesses a passionate fight in Room With A View – were my own source of inspiration for visiting Italy. Of course the upper classes prefer the more refined Florence, whereas I’ll admit my lower class allegiance to Venice. This revered circle of friends have so many niche rules and in-jokes it’s impossible to negotiate them all, without tripping yourself up. Just like a valuable renaissance painting, being one of the elite is very difficult to fake. In these beautiful backdrops there are constant hints of fakery and disguise: the trompe l’oeil frescos of the country houses; the maze of laurel hedges; the association of Venice with carnival and disguise. Even the example of Room With A View has it’s plot of a well-to-do young girl on her own Grand Tour, trying to keep secret her love for a distinctly lower class clerk she meets at a pensione in Florence. All of this imagery and reference to facade, disguise and things not quite being as they seem adds to the atmosphere and intrigue. It’s like seeing a beautiful bowl of fruit, that at its centre, is rotten to the core. This book will make a great book club read, not only to discuss these awful characters, but to ponder on what we might have done in the same circumstances. As the years roll by, what price will Ada pay and how long can she maintain the facade she has built? This is a complex and intriguing novel, full of flawed characters, with a central character showing all the signs of a borderline personality – Ada simply doesn’t know who she is. There is a void at her centre that can only be filled by imitating and adopting the lifestyle of those around her, with possible lifelong ramifications.

Meet The Author

Laura Vaughan grew up in rural Wales and studied Art History in Italy and Classics at Bristol and Oxford. She got her first book deal aged twenty-two and went on to write eleven books for children and young adults. The Favour is her first novel for adults. She lives in
South London with her husband and two children.
For more information, please contact
Kirsty Doole
Publicity Director, Atlantic Books kirstydoole@atlantic-books.co.uk
07850 096902 @CorvusBooks | @theotherkirsty

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